What-if 0034: "Twitter"

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Eutychus
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What-if 0034: "Twitter"

Postby Eutychus » Tue Feb 26, 2013 10:56 am UTC

http://what-if.xkcd.com/34/

How many unique English tweets are possible? How long would it take for the population of the world to read them all out loud?

I have a long way to go. I was a very early adopter of Twitter, but have almost never tweeted.
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Vroomfundel
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Vroomfundel » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:01 am UTC

Ah, ninja'd...

This illustrate how complex language and grammar are and why we still don't have good automated translation although we're capable of calculating all kinds of minute details about the distant parts of the universe
lexicum.net - my vocabulary learning platform

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Klear
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:03 am UTC

There's a horse in aisle five.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby peewee_RotA » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:17 am UTC

"Vowels have trouble getting married in Canada. They can’t pronounce their O’s."

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EpicanicusStrikes
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby EpicanicusStrikes » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:46 am UTC

Klear wrote:There's a horse in aisle five.

My hovercraft is full of eels.*


* I speak in trinary, biatch!

rmsgrey
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 26, 2013 11:51 am UTC

Oh My God! The volcano is Eru Iluvatar!

Rondodu
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Rondodu » Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:33 pm UTC

Good, now I know what to read when I finish my current bedside poetry book.

That should have been a link to the Wikipedia page about "Cent mille milliard de poèmes" by Raymond Queneau, but I can't post links until I've reached five posts. So duckgo it.
Last edited by Rondodu on Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:43 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

Trebla
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Trebla » Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:43 pm UTC

Kind of glossed over the math of calculating one eternal day = 10^32 years... That seems short to me.

Assuming a perfect cone of 100 mile width at the base (50 mile radius) and 100 mile height, that's... 1/3 * pi * (50^2) * 100 = 262,000 cubic miles... 2.62 x 10^5.

If we're extremely generous and let the bird carry away a cubic millimeter each visit... Google tells me there are 4.12 x 10^18 cubic mm/cubic mile, so he'd need... 1.08 x 10^24 visits... with a visit every thousand years that's roughly 10^27 years.

1/100,000 of a cubic millimeter seems like a more reasonable guess at the amount the bird would actually chip away per visit... so, yeah, 10^32 human years per eternal day works out. Curiosity: Satisfied.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby pachinkoid » Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:46 pm UTC

i suggest everyone who hasn't already buys a copy of "Labyrinths" by Jorge Luis Borges and reads The Library of Babel immediately. because they just should.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby silverkitty » Tue Feb 26, 2013 12:56 pm UTC

"To a normal English speaker, “Hi, I’m Mxyztplk” is basically indistinguishable from “Hi, I’m Mxzkqklt” "

which brings up the interesting question of: how many English speakers know Superman lore well enough that they recognize the first name (even with the typo), and thus distinguish it from the second name?
how many English speakers have to recognize something before it becomes "normal"?

Barstro
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Barstro » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:11 pm UTC

I'll have to follow everyone else's reading suggestions.

Personally, I was constantly reminded of "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Clarke.

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pkcommando
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby pkcommando » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:13 pm UTC

What if we got the guy from the old Micro Machines ads to read every tweet out loud? Or some clone army of him to do it?

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YellowYeti
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby YellowYeti » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:13 pm UTC

silverkitty wrote:"To a normal English speaker, “Hi, I’m Mxyztplk” is basically indistinguishable from “Hi, I’m Mxzkqklt” "

which brings up the interesting question of: how many English speakers know Superman lore well enough that they recognize the first name (even with the typo), and thus distinguish it from the second name?
how many English speakers have to recognize something before it becomes "normal"?


What proportion have to spell 'lose' as 'loose' before it becomes the correct spelling?

Not being much of a twitterer, do most of them use txtspk? I imagine the redundancy of txtspk is much lower than that of 'proper' English - though may perhaps take slightly longer to read.

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Klear
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:16 pm UTC

Barstro wrote:I'll have to follow everyone else's reading suggestions.

Personally, I was constantly reminded of "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Clarke.


Me too. My house is full of traps.

EpicanicusStrikes wrote:My hovercraft is full of eels.


That crossed my mind as well. There’s a horse in aisle five.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Maurits » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:19 pm UTC


TheRedSeven
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby TheRedSeven » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:29 pm UTC

How is it that despite the many options, nobody on Twitter really says anything?

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Klear
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:39 pm UTC

Hmm... I was googling the two nonsense sentences and came up with this:

http://jbw53191.blogspot.cz/2009/03/clean-up-on-aisle-five.html

Hilarious coincidence?

BTW, what's with the "Clean-up on aisle X"? I've heard the quote in several places, in Duke 3D, among others, but never really understood where it came from. Is this frequently heard in supermarkets or something?

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 26, 2013 1:48 pm UTC

Klear wrote:BTW, what's with the "Clean-up on aisle X"? I've heard the quote in several places, in Duke 3D, among others, but never really understood where it came from. Is this frequently heard in supermarkets or something?

Yeah, it's what supermarket PAs say when a mess is reported somewhere in the supermarket, and got adopted as a one-liner for having made a mess in a supermarket by killing (or knocking-out, depending on target audience) a bad guy (or a stack of bad guys).

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cellocgw
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gee thanks, mathjax

Postby cellocgw » Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:26 pm UTC

[math processing error] all over the page. Guess Chrome and the mathjax plugin, or whatever it is, still aren't playing nice.

What's even more annoying is that damn error message. If it'd just leave the LaTex source visible, I could easily read & interpret the intended formulae.

Edit: not that it matters, but all I had to to was enable pulling URLs in the Extensions Manager and things worked. My week to be the idiot.
Last edited by cellocgw on Wed Feb 27, 2013 4:28 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.
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ctdonath
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby ctdonath » Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:35 pm UTC

... 140 characters may not seem like a lot, but we will never run out of things to say.


Stunned silence.
Slow applause.
Applause accelerates.
Standing ovation follows.

That, Randal, was marvelous.

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Klear
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 26, 2013 2:39 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
Klear wrote:BTW, what's with the "Clean-up on aisle X"? I've heard the quote in several places, in Duke 3D, among others, but never really understood where it came from. Is this frequently heard in supermarkets or something?

Yeah, it's what supermarket PAs say when a mess is reported somewhere in the supermarket, and got adopted as a one-liner for having made a mess in a supermarket by killing (or knocking-out, depending on target audience) a bad guy (or a stack of bad guys).


OK, thanks. I though it could be this, but I thought there's a much better chance it was started by a movie or something like that.
I've never heard anything like that in Czech, though maybe I've been lucky and there hasn't been any mess while I was at a supermarket yet. I usually only hear stuff like "X wanted at register #Y".

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orthogon
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby orthogon » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:24 pm UTC

YellowYeti wrote:What proportion have to spell 'lose' as 'loose' before it becomes the correct spelling?

On the plus side: at least selective pressure exerted by the 140 char limit might favour "lose". And "its". On the minus side: even when it should be "loose" or "it's".

I have to admit to not getting Twitter. I mean, I get the idea, but I hate the way that the character limit makes writers whom I admire for their lucid, erudite, clear and insightful prose in other media produce awkward, garbled and ugly tweets.

Also, you shouldn't be able to tweet a picture. The whole point, if there is one, is about distilling your message down to the 140 bytes* allowed in an SMS message. Pictures should have the same 140-byte limit. You would have to hand-craft a JPEG at the bit level if you wanted it to be recognisable.

* Discussion of 7- 8- and 16-bit character sets in text messages omitted.

[EDIT] And Borges was a genius.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:34 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
rmsgrey wrote:
Klear wrote:BTW, what's with the "Clean-up on aisle X"? I've heard the quote in several places, in Duke 3D, among others, but never really understood where it came from. Is this frequently heard in supermarkets or something?

Yeah, it's what supermarket PAs say when a mess is reported somewhere in the supermarket, and got adopted as a one-liner for having made a mess in a supermarket by killing (or knocking-out, depending on target audience) a bad guy (or a stack of bad guys).


OK, thanks. I though it could be this, but I thought there's a much better chance it was started by a movie or something like that.
I've never heard anything like that in Czech, though maybe I've been lucky and there hasn't been any mess while I was at a supermarket yet. I usually only hear stuff like "X wanted at register #Y".

It may well have been in a movie (or multiple movies) first - or even a TV show - it's sufficiently obvious a line that it's probably been invented more than once.

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MythSearcher
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby MythSearcher » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:34 pm UTC

This reminds me of 2 things:
1) The Freefall comic (can't find the right one, but it is about tweeting all possible combination of letters and dictionary words and storage capacity limits)
2) There are leap years. =_,= (super evil grin)

rmsgrey
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:40 pm UTC

MythSearcher wrote:2) There are leap years. =_,= (super evil grin)


Neglecting to account for leap years introduces an error of around 97 days in 400 years - a little worse than 1 part in 1500. That's significantly less than the rounding errors already involved in the calculations.

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tibfulv
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby tibfulv » Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:58 pm UTC

Hm. I never knew the lands where that mountain was was supposed to be Svithjod. If I remember correctly, that's the norse name for Sweden, or as Svithjod hin mikla (Great Svithjod), Russia. Based on the Karakorum?

huanghos bookmarklet is working beautifully, too.

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Jackpot777
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Jackpot777 » Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:05 pm UTC

My house is full of traps.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Messysaurus » Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:07 pm UTC

Why wouldn't the number of string possibilities be 140^27 instead of 27^140 (first sentence)? My thought process: if you were to look at numbers 1-1000, there are 10 characters and with a length of 3 characters; 10^3 = 1000 possibilities, not 3^10 = ~57k. I apologize in advance if I'm missing something obvious.

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cellocgw
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby cellocgw » Tue Feb 26, 2013 4:17 pm UTC

Jackpot777 wrote:My house is full of traps.


Hope so. Sewer gas is mighty stinky.
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby FarAlSamShaidar » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:03 pm UTC

There's a rather large problem with Randall's math. Thought I'd NEVER say that. But this is not like binary in that leading (or trailing, depending on endian-ness) 0s don't affect the result. In other words, messages of 139 characters in length are wholly different than those of 140 characters. Even more so for those of 100 characters in length. Etc. If we assume that Mr. H. wants any string of characters that are English, rather than complete and logical sentences (which is, more or less, the assumption Randall makes) then even one-letter messages such as "I" and "a" are valid. Using 1.1 bits per letter then, the proper answer is 2140*1.1 + 2139*1.1 + 2138*1.1 ... + 22*1.1 + 21*1.1; or in other words (sorry, I don't really know LaTeX or if it can be used in forums) SUM(2n*1.1, 1, 140). That gives an answer of approximately 4.28*1046.

I wrote this all out expecting the difference to be larger than that, though now that I think about it I can see why it's not a HUGE difference. Still, off by more than 2x, it's bigger than rounding errors.
Last edited by FarAlSamShaidar on Tue Feb 26, 2013 7:08 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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orthogon
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby orthogon » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:19 pm UTC

Jackpot777 wrote:My house is full of traps.

My trousers: full of hips.
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby jwdink » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:20 pm UTC

Okay, I'm missing something and it's making me feel dumb:

10^32 * 365 * 10,000 = 3.65*10^38

That's many orders of magnitude off from what was originally said for the number of tweets, 10^47.

What am I missing here?

EDIT: Ha, nevermind. Forgot to account for the fact that the bird only comes once every 1000 years, and I forgot to convert from seconds to years:

1,000*16*60*60*10^32 * 365 * 10,000 = 3.65*10^38 = 2*10^46

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby peter_spikings » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:46 pm UTC

Yes, people just don't get how quickly numbers get vast when you have relatively tiny numbers as powers.

I've found that software developers sometimes have great fun when working at ISPs (not)... trying to drum it into network engineers that you don't need IP address conservation techniques for IPv6 (and also that you need IPv6 in the first place)!

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby DR6 » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:49 pm UTC

I don't like how Randall kind of stops acknowledging the existence of languages other than English when he starts with the information theory thing. He only has calculated the amount of possible English tweets.

Let's see:
-According to this source that I totally didn't get in 15 seconds with a google search and is totally legit, there are from 3000 to 8000 languages in the world.
-Now, we have to find the information per letter of each language. After trying diverse ways, I used the translation length of the most popular languages to calculate the mean: multiplying that with the English density would give me the average information density of all languages. What I discovered was that the average difference between English and the rest wasn't really significant, but it also observed that it seems to rise as you keep counting more and more less popular languages. The limit seems to be kind of 1.1, so I'll just use that, giving us 1.1x1.1=1.21 bits/letter.
-We go and calculate 2^(140*1.21)*[3000,8000], getting something between 3e54 and 8e54, according to ghci. I'd say the 8 zeros of difference are significant.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby rhomboidal » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:51 pm UTC

TheRedSeven wrote:How is it that despite the many options, nobody on Twitter really says anything?

Hehe, clearly Twitter proves it would take birds a lot less than an eternity to make a mountainous rock from their excreted deposits.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Yupa » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:56 pm UTC

DR6 wrote:I don't like how Randall kind of stops acknowledging the existence of languages other than English when he starts with the information theory thing. He only has calculated the amount of possible English tweets.


Randall was answering the question asked, which was "How many unique English tweets are possible?"

As far as the rest of your calculations go, you seem to be assuming that the 3000-8000 languages represent disjoint sets, and thus their entropy is additive. I would assume that there is substantial overlap between languages.

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Oktalist » Tue Feb 26, 2013 5:57 pm UTC

Relevant:

"If a million monkeys were given a million typewriters, eventually one of them might produce the complete works of Shakespeare, but to reach it would it be worth wading through four hundred copies of 'Money' by Martin Amis?"

"A million monkeys were given a million typewriters. It's called the internet."

- Simon Munnery
philip1201 wrote:Not everything which maps countable infinities onto finite areas is a Lovecraft reference.

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Klear
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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby Klear » Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:09 pm UTC

DR6 wrote:-According to this source that I totally didn't get in 15 seconds with a google search and is totally legit, there are from 3000 to 8000 languages in the world.


Besides what was already said, I think (and it seems your link concurs) that a lot of these languages as spoken by fewer people than those who can distinguish between Mxyzptlk and Mxyztplk. The later number might grow a bit if a new Superman movie series takes off...

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby DR6 » Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:13 pm UTC

Yupa wrote:
Randall was answering the question asked, which was "How many unique English tweets are possible?"

... my bad. Anyway, I wanted to calculate it.
Yupa wrote:As far as the rest of your calculations go, you seem to be assuming that the 3000-8000 languages represent disjoint sets, and thus their entropy is additive. I would assume that there is substantial overlap between languages.

I don't see how there would be a substantial overlap. Of course they would be some overlap, but not anything significant. I mean, how frequent is it that a sequence of strings is valid sintactically in two different languages? Not very frequent, specially noting that a lot of the languages use completely different character sets(I don't think the birthday paradox applies here either, because sentences are constructed differently in different languages).

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Re: What-if 0034: Twitter

Postby DR6 » Tue Feb 26, 2013 6:16 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
DR6 wrote:-According to this source that I totally didn't get in 15 seconds with a google search and is totally legit, there are from 3000 to 8000 languages in the world.


Besides what was already said, I think (and it seems your link concurs) that a lot of these languages as spoken by fewer people than those who can distinguish between Mxyzptlk and Mxyztplk. The later number might grow a bit if a new Superman movie series takes off...

Ah, but we are talking about possible tweets, without accounting how probable they are.

Even then, if we assumed that only the first 100 languages are relevant, (or 10 for that matter) already makes a difference. (You end up with 10^53 and 10^52 respectively).


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